Soon after we bought our farm, we began raising chickens. It was a battle of wits: ours against every poultry predator in the county. The predators won and soon we were down to one hen. Our lone chicken was an incredible example to me of adaptation to one’s circumstances. Once on her own and ‘peer-less’, our chicken broke herself of the compulsion to cave in to peer pressure. She tried new things, went new places, made new friends.
She quickly made herself at home with the sheep and the sheep seem to have intimidated any potential predators enough to prevent any further attempts on her life. She found herself a new perch in the sheep side of the barn and began to put herself away there at night. Eric didn’t see any reason to disturb her new routine. She followed the sheep wherever they went for a while, then she decided that she wanted to explore the other side of the fence, where the sheep could not go.
Soon we would wake up in the morning to find her perched outside on our deck posts, eating birdseed out of the bird feeders. She had found a way to get out of the barn by herself in the morning and she had found a new feed source far superior to sheep feed. It was fall by that time and I saw no reason she shouldn’t have free reign over the gardens. All that winter she came up to the house for breakfast and then spent the rest of the day scratching around the gardens. In the evenings, she headed back to the barn to her perch, where Eric would find her when he put the sheep away at night.
One day, Eric heard crowing in the barn. Upon investigation, it turned out that our hen was trying to crow. This brought up all kinds of questions about transsexual barnyard animals, but before we had a chance to contact the Guinness World Record people, she stopped. Perhaps she was only exploring the nature of avian gender identification.
In many ways, this chicken reminded me of a woman who finds herself in a situation where her identity is not based on her relationship to her children, spouse or other family member. She is unique, one of a kind, able to define herself however she wishes, free to do the introspection necessary to see what she has inside to cope with her situation. She cannot depend on others to tell her how she is, because there are no others. She decides herself what kind of chicken she’ll be. Interestingly enough, though she experimented with new chicken behaviors (e.g. the crowing), I don’t think that she denied the basic being that she is: a female chicken. She still laid eggs, she still molted, she still scratched, she still loved birdseed. Although she had sheep friends and associated very closely with them, she did not try to become a sheep. She did not graze, she did not mate with the ram, she did not bleat. Neither did the sheep encourage her to.
I think that is a trick that I would like to learn. I want to be a person who does not depend on others to tell me what kind of female person I should be. I want to try new behaviors, and associate with friends who are very different from me and whose perspective I can learn from, without feeling the pressure to be one of them. And I still want to strengthen the innate talents or abilities that I already have. I want to be a good mother, even if family isn’t a very high priority among my peers. I want to be a good gardener and farmer, even if my colleagues think that it is a waste of my degree. I want to be a good writer, even if no one reads what I write.